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London to Brighton by Bike … and then some

Cycling Blog

London to Brighton by Bike … and then some

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October 21st, 2014

I’m sure we signed up for a London to Brighton ‘exploration’,  so how on earth have we ended up here, swigging champagne under the Eiffel Tower?

Ride25 London to Paris Cycling Holiday 202

A beautiful Autumnal morning, fresh but bright, saw a group of nervous strangers mingling for registration around 7.30 am at the iconic Horse Guards Parade, and as the mist slowly burnt off St James’s Park lake, conversations struck up and introductions were made whilst we eagerly donned our very distinctive new jerseys (not least in gratitude for the extra layer).  Throughout the day, the highly visible names, destination and history would provide simple conversation openers and riders with more than one coloured badge certainly sport a little extra cache.  We, indeed, had special edition Brighton only shirts.

This was an event of two halves; a larger field of one day chancers, with varying degrees of fitness, experience and equipment, who would battle the elements, wind and hills as far as Brighton, and a group who were playing out all the way to Paris over 3 days.  It was at this early juncture, as we dropped our day bags on to the support van, it was first suggested we would regret only being on the Brighton leg – interest piqued by 7.34 am.

After a short, but very welcoming and reassuring briefing from John, and an equally pace reassuring introduction from our marketing host, Ashley, we were lead out of central London by ride leader Emma.  The route out to Putney bridge and on to Richmond Park was certainly as safe as London cycling can be.  Kingston’s one way system busting route proved the first challenge, with the Garmins in our group beeping ‘off course’ as we took a short detour over the bridge.

Once out into the open, and on the back roads to Epsom, the pace began to rise ever so slightly; but not as quickly as the conversations developed and people relaxed.  Yes, perhaps a little posturing as the quicker boys ran an inquisitive eye over their associates’ framesets ! but already we knew we were in for a very pleasant day of riding as the social feel far outweighed any sense of competitiveness.  (That, perhaps would develop later :-)) )

Ride25 London to Paris Cycling Holiday 117Our first stop was a charming pub, at the bottom of the infamous Box Hill, which we had just circumnavigated, and was a welcome comfort break and ideal place to shelter as the heavens opened.  Pre 11 am, the pub was open, fire lit and coffee being served – so much more than simply having to huddle around the back of a van, or trestle table for a drinks stop.

As far as I could see, the 12-15 of us who had found a common pace on leaving Richmond Park had stuck together (even through minor detours) up to this point; a testimony to the camaraderie instantaneously developed on such a ride.  In fact, the group may have stuck together far longer if one rider hadn’t attacked on the first hill out of the stop…. ahem.  The hill was a lot longer and steeper than he remembered and was quickly put in his place by our cyclo-cross and Contintental racing snake contingent !

Dappled in mud we battled the wind through the beautiful Surrey Hills, a splendid addition to this L-B route, to our lunch stop in Cranleigh, where we were treated to far more than basic carb-loading.  The ‘Richard Onslow’ made us feel exceptionally welcome despite our bedraggled mud and road crud encrusted state – clear plastic sheeting thankfully provided to save their ever-so-new Tweed and felt furnishings !

Ride25 London to Paris Cycling Holiday 106

Re-fuelled and re-energised, but delayed by some impressive thunderstorms we enjoyed a unique and interesting route throughout the afternoon, occasionally passing smaller groups consulting maps/garmins, or fixing punctures; but always happy spirited groups of hitherto strangers, helping each other out.  I, myself, suffered two punctures in quick succession but any notion of being left to deal with these alone was very quickly dismissed by my fellow riders.

The wind on the Prom coming through from Hove made for an exhilarating finale as we motored along at full pelt with what felt like the day’s first tail wind; or perhaps it was just the prospect of imminent beer that upped the tempo.  So much a better finish to be had with welcoming pints, crisps and John’s hospitality, rather than the anti-climax and cheap medal of the ubiquitous sportive. This is how all days of cycling should end.

So welcoming and encouraging in fact, that after only 3 scoops we found ourselves (egged on by Mr Readman) catching an earlier train back to London to facilitate re-packing, a spot of frantic logistical planning and a drive down to Newhaven to catch the overnight ferry to Dieppe to meet up with the Ride25 gang, that were ‘going all the way’.

We thought we may have been a little mad/too keen, but the welcoming faces in the hotel lobby as we appeared out of the barely dawn gloom was enough to convince us of a good decision and John was relieved to find he was not the target of some elaborate wind-up.

Ride25 London to Paris Cycling Holiday 169A team of 5 of us set off from Forges-les-Eaux at 8.15 as a ‘medium’ paced group, to cover the 92 miles into Paris, on the most interesting/rolling/picturesque route I have ever ridden in France.  The post lunch (an excellent Bolognese) run in, through no less than 5 extensive Forests/Parks (think more Ashdown than Richmond) was truly unique.  Ok, some cyclo-cross skills were an advantage at this time of year, as was the ability to bunny-hop at 35kmh, but as we rode past Versailles in the sun ; (admittedly with one eye over our shoulder as I think all 5 of us had tacitly decided we wanted to be first home, having passed other groups on the road), the grins on our faces spoke volumes for the whole event.

To be greeted at the sublimely picturesque (and French) Cafe Monsieur with coffee and beer by John was a great touch – shame we had to wait so long for the tardy ‘quick’ group.  Here we re-grouped for a final leisurely bimble of 8km into Central Paris, as the banter between the groups showed a healthy competitive spirit.

drinks in parisAnd so, we find ourselves glugging Champers under the Eiffel Tower, having photos, swapping stories, hopping around wishing I hadn’t had that second beer, pretending the dog-bite isn’t hurting and looking forward to an evening with our new found Marketing and Ride25 friends.  Oh, and feeling very smug about our impromptu weekend, so much so that the interminable ferry ride home will be forgotten long before the event.

Thanks to all the support staff who helped us over the course of the weekend, whether it was mechanical tweakings, advice, misplaced bags or just solid organisation with a friendly smile.

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